Story 07: Managing the Organization

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New Ideas

Written by Elaine Heumann Gurian

Acquiring new ideas for new directions was an ongoing process. Outsiders often suggested new ideas, assuming that going from idea to product was an easy process. The staff knew otherwise. New ideas needed to fit within the institutional direction, the budget, the grants process, and the time and money allocation. One would think that the emphasis on all these processes would in fact stifle creativity. To the contrary, every permanent staff member had been intimately involved in budget preparation and knew how it worked. They were sophisticated advocates for ideas, and also for the horse-trading required to get them to fit within the direction and budget of the entire institution. The museum made long term commitments to certain content areas but was also on the lookout for new trends and new ideas.

We learned that we needed to self-fund new ideas in order to become less dependent on project funding. In 1982 we had a blockbuster exhibit The Art of the Muppets that netted $150,000 over projections. From that unexpected windfall we created an entrepreneurial R&D fund, and an operating reserve that allowed new experimental projects to be applied for and self-funded. It also allowed us to remain in the black by drawing it down slowly over a number of difficult years.

Next: Both Thinkers and Doers